Thursday, June 28, 2012

New Study: Is a Calorie a Calorie?

A new study in JAMA led by Dr. Cara B. Ebbeling and colleagues purports to challenge the idea that all calories are equally fattening (1).  Let's have a look.  When thinking about the role of calorie intake in body fatness, there are basically three camps:

1.    Calories don’t matter at all, only diet composition matters.
2.    Calories are the only thing that matters, and diet composition is irrelevant.
3.    Calories matter, but diet composition may also play a role.

The first one is an odd position that is not very well populated.  The second one has a lot of adherents in the research world, and there’s enough evidence to make a good case for it.  It’s represented by the phrase ‘a calorie is a calorie’, i.e. all calories are equally fattening.  #1 and #2 are both extreme positions, and as such they get a lot of attention.  But the third group, although less vocal, may be closest to the truth. 
Read more »

Monday, June 25, 2012

What Puts Fat Into Fat Cells, and What Takes it Out?

Body fatness at its most basic level is determined by the rate of fat going into vs. out of fat cells. This in/out cycle occurs regardless of conditions outside the cell, but the balance between in and out is influenced by a variety of external factors.  One of the arguments that has been made in the popular media about obesity goes something like this:  

A number of factors can promote the release of fat from fat cells, including:
Epinephrine, norepinephrine, adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), glucagon, thyroid-stimulating hormone, melanocyte-stimulating hormone, vasopressin, and growth hormone
 But only two promote fat storage:
Insulin, and acylation-stimulating protein (ASP)*
Therefore if we want to understand body fat accumulation, we should focus on the latter category, because that's what puts fat inside fat cells.  Simple, right?

Can you spot the logical error in this argument?

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Sunday, June 24, 2012


I received a few interesting emails about the Poetry Should Be Subversive article by Simon Armitage, and for those of you with a keen eye, you’ll be aware that he is heading up a week of non-competitive poetry related events at the Southbank as part of the Cultural Olympiad.  What he calls the Poetry Parnassus, or the ‘most democratic and ancient art-form.’ For those of us feeling slightly jaded by both the Jubilee celebrations and impending Olympic histrionics, it was a relief to read a comment by Armitage in this weeks Observer, in which he reiterates the role of the arts (poetry) not just as celebratory, but as giving voice to dissent.
“...when I watch the Olympics, it sickens me that people are gagged and labelled and everybody has to stand up, drape themselves in a flag and stamp to the national anthem in front of the official fizzy drink. That is not the way most people feel about their country. This is an opportunity to address some of those issues.’ 
Its almost heartening to note then, that the Westfield Shopping Centre in Stratford is to close its car-park for the duration of the Olympics. A big diddums to the poor bleating shoppers, who like to drive as close as humanly possible to get their fill of burgers, posh frocks and plasma screens. Your merchandise pushers and peddlers too, will have to use public transport for once. 

You can bet, that the shopping centre is going to be full of reading, dancing, sculpture and a million other Cultural Olympiad activities that will make for happy, passive shoppers.  As “...part of the £13.5 million high quality public realm project to improve Stratford Town Centre for residents and businesses and offer a unique visitor experience,” Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales believes that work like the recently completed The Shoal will ‘...offer a unique visitor experience.’
The sculpture is made up of around 100 titanium clad, giant ‘leaves’, at between 15 and 19 meters high and is situated along the Great Eastern Road. David West, of the projects design team, Studio Egret West said:  ‘The Shoal was born of a desire to turn a negative into a positive. Instead of screening the back of house of the Stratford shopping centre, which now finds itself in the foreground, we have created a playful and dynamic edge that brings a moment of delight to those arriving in Newham. ‘ Mmm, you can judge the merits of the work for yourself by visiting e-architect. Does this 'art' inspire and revitalise communities? I'd like to know what you think.

Still, as a temple to the power of products, it’s a rip-roaring artistic and cultural legacy for the UK isn’t it? An Olympic sized gateway to the largest urban shopping centre in Europe. Makes you proud to fly the flag.

And as the Olympic Torch continues to gutter and wend its way through our rain-soaked and cobbled Northern climbs, its equally heartening to see that John Pillger has lost none of his forensic scrutiny of news that suspiciously falls below the radar.  

It’s with the Olympics in mind, and art in the public realm, that Pilger shines a torch on the decorators of the Olympic stadium facade, Dow Chemical Corporation, who are funding a £7m, 900m (0.56 miles) long by 20m (67ft) high, fabric wrap for the Olympic stadium. Not quite the Segregation Wall in length, but equally pernicious. 
I’d been aware of the connection between Dow and its purchase of Union Carbide "the company responsible for the Bhopal gas leak [in India in 1984] which killed 7,000 to 10,000 people immediately and 15,000 in the following twenty years", but what I wasn’t aware of was Dow’s long illustrious position in the development and sales of both Napalm and Agent Orange in the Vietnam War. Irrelevant to our proud games you might suggest? This short and sharp article by Pilger, persuades me otherwise. Read it by clicking on the image of one of the 4.8 million uncompensated child victims of Agent Orange below. If you are outraged, share this. 

I made a decision not to show a child's image, as it felt exploitative, so here is Black Square, 1915, by Kazimir Malevich. I urge you to simply type, Victim Agent Organge into google, or click on the Black Square.

I’ve had lots of enquiries about the Anne Basting event on the 10th July. Please note, I can’t answer all the email questions about the event just yet, but will post details on line asap. I will of course, confirm places with those who’ve expressed an interest, at least a week before the event. It will in all likelihood, take place in the early evening here at MMU on the 10th July. This will be a fantastic evening for all those interested in Dementia and the Arts and a pleasure to welcome Anne.

Group music sessions 'may boost empathy in children'
Judith Burns, Education reporter for the BBC News reports that regularly playing music in groups may improve children's ability to empathise with others. Researchers from Cambridge University compared empathy skills in children who played weekly music-based games for a year with those who did not. The musical group scored higher in end-of-year tests of how well they recognised other people's emotions. Click on the drumming babies for more.

Wellcome Trust – Peoples Awards (UK) 
Awards of up to £30,000 are available under the Wellcome Trust's Peoples Awards for projects that encourage public debate and understanding of biomedical science. Projects can be funded for up to three years and can include activities such as:
  • Workshops and seminars
  • Arts projects
  • Teaching materials or techniques to encourage wider discussions
  • Projects that utilise the collections of the Wellcome Library and the Wellcome Collection at the Science Museum. 
The next applications deadline is the 27th July 2012. Click on the Visualisation of a Protein below!

BBC Children in Need (UK)
BBC Children in Need provides grants for up to three years to organisations (including schools) working with disadvantaged young people aged 18 or under. Within the BBC Children in Need grants programme, organisations can apply for Small Grants of £10,000 or less per year for up to three years and for Main Grants of over £10,000 per year for up to three years. Funding is available to organisations that work with young people who are suffering from:
  • Illness
  • Distress
  • Abuse or neglect
  • Are disabled
  • Have behavioural or psychological difficulties
  • Are living in poverty or situations of deprivation.
The next closing date for applications is the 15th July 2012. Read more by clicking on the Rabbit or Tiger below:

(Or, Being Mentored by a Higher-Inteligence)
I’ve had some correspondence from people asking me, just what was all that Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld, all about? Thank you for being curious...and more will emerge very shortly.

In short, its a ‘developing’ story about how those of us in this arts/health movement feel that creativity/culture/arts offer so much more than selfish individualism, and that those of us working in any kind of advocacy role, must genuinely represent and support the communities of interest we claim to represent. 

Moreover, if the failed ‘market’ model is imposed on the arts, we will be awash with the corporate, insipid and irrelevant. Deluded self-belief and arrogant brand placement, run the risk of reducing this emerging sector to some panacea, or worse still, a placebo for all societal ills.  Much, much more to follow...

Thank you as ever...C.P.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Pressure Cooker for the 21st Century

Pressure cookers are an extremely useful kitchen tool.  They greatly speed cooking and reduce energy usage by up to 70 percent.  This is because as pressure increases, so does the boiling point of water, which is the factor that limits cooking speed in water-containing foods (most foods).  If it weren't for my pressure cooker, I'd rarely eat beets or globe artichokes.  Instead of baking, boiling or steaming these for 60-90 minutes, I can have them soft as butter in 30.  But let's face it: most people are intimidated by pressure cookers.  They fear the sounds, the hot steam, and the perceived risk of explosion.  I escaped this because I grew up around them.

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Monday, June 18, 2012

Poetry should be subversive...

Arts for Health are out of the office and on the road with Musique et Sante. So, in place of the usual weekly blog, here are two articles of interest. The first is by poet, Simon Armitage who writes eloquently in response to the Education Secretary’s policy plans for English. This was first published in the Guardian on Tuesday 12th June 2012. The second is an interview with Grayson Perry, and is self-explanatory. Back to normal service soon...C.P.

If Michael Gove's plan for English means reciting Tennyson in posh accents, it's nothing to celebrate

If businessman and philanthropist Scott Griffin committed a misdemeanour as a young boy, he was sent to his room and not allowed out until he had read and remembered some piece of classical poetry. Scott now presides over what is sometimes described as the world's richest poetry award, the Griffin prize, with prize money totalling 200,000 tax-free Canadian dollars.
The psychology by which an intended punishment became a lifelong passion might only be explained by a close analysis of that particular father and son relationship; but in any event, poetry (or at least a few poets each year) is certainly better off because of it. Yet I've also seen the reverse happen. In fact it's more common that a well-meaning elder, often a teacher, has instilled in a child a lifelong abhorrence of verse by drooling over an unfathomable passage from Chaucer – or, worse still, insisting that a pupil "explain" a poem, as if it were a riddle to which an answer should be provided.
Where I found refuge in poetry, and thought of it as an alternative to the mainstream, many of my former classmates felt either humbled or humiliated by it, and came to view it as something for clever dicks and posers. It's for those reasons that I'm nervous about the noises currently being made by the Department for Education about returning to "traditional values" in schools – values which would see children as young as five being expected to learn and recite poetry "by heart". My concerns are mainly about labelling poetry as something solid, traditional and worthy, something belonging to the establishment, a yardstick against which most people won't measure up. I'm also worried that by poetry, what the government might really mean is "poetry", or POETRY – that is, grist for the spoken English competition, in which students at my school were expected to stand on a stage and chew their way through The Lady of Shalott in a feigned and foreign RP accent.

If those are the values being pursued, and if in Michael Gove's master plan English literature is actually a byword for Englishness, or learning "by heart" might actually mean learning by rote, then I'd prefer poetry to have no part in it. If, on the other hand, children are allowed to find the poems that fit their voices or appeal to their imaginations and their cultural inclinations, then I'm on board. It's a well-established fact that poems learned at an early stage in the form of nursery rhymes stay with us for life, and that people suffering with Alzheimer's and other forms of memory loss, who struggle in later life to remember their address or the names of their children, can often recite nursery rhymes without any difficulty. The brain is always keen to seize on pattern and structure, and the growing brain seems to instill poetry at its core.
The mind too, as it expands, needs forms of language that go beyond the rational and the prosaic, and which mirror our fragmented, highly metaphorical and moment-to-moment perception of life itself. My granddad could recite huge chunks of Shakespeare, to the point where he seemed to have a quote for every given situation. He'd worked in the mill, as a hospital porter and as a fireman, and was virtually self-taught in terms of literature. Sure, the quoting was something of a party piece, but I also felt that he was processing or validating his own life experiences, not to mention sharing those experiences with the planet's greatest ever wordsmith.

At school I had to learn passages from Goldsmith's The Deserted Village, Wordsworth's Michael and several Ted Hughes poems, to regurgitate in exams. I should have resented it, (was it an English exam or a memory test?) but in fact I never properly understood those lines until I had committed them to memory, as if remembering them were a further part of the analytical process. In fact they've stayed with me to such an extent that I'm still finding new meaning in them even today.

In a lot of the work I've done with prisoners or with people who've missed out on a decent education, I've found a whole section of society who have plenty to say but no way of saying it. They've never been exposed to language at its most ingenious, have no models to draw on and no mechanism for expressing their interior lives to the outside world, and when people can't articulate how they feel, problems follow.
Isn't it also the case, on a very basic level, that if we are going to remember language (and we are going to remember language) then we might as well remember the good stuff? I say this as someone who can still quote the whole of the Hoseason's boating brochure advertisement. It was implanted in my head sometime in the early 70s via ITV, has stayed there until this day, and has never once been of any value to me whatsoever. If only I'd been watching the BBC, where I assume they were broadcasting Chaucer instead.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

New Study Demonstrates that Sugar has to be Palatable to be Fattening in Mice

Dr. Anthony Sclafani's research group just published a study definitively demonstrating that high palatability, or pleasantness of taste, is required for sugar to be fattening in mice (1).  Dr. John Glendinning was lead author. Dr. Sclafani's group has done a lot of excellent research over the years.  Among other things, he's the person who invented the most fattening rodent diet in the world-- the 'cafeteria diet'-- composed of human junk food. 

Mice and rats love sweet food and drinks, just like humans.  If you give them a choice between plain water and sugar water, they'll overconsume the sugar water and become obese.  I have argued, based on a large body of evidence, that the reward value and palatability* of these solutions are important to this process (2, 3, 4).  This is really just common sense honestly, because by definition if the solution weren't rewarding the mice wouldn't go out of their way to drink it instead of water, the same way people wouldn't go out of their way to get soda if it weren't rewarding.  But it's always best to confirm common sense with research.
Read more »

Sunday, June 10, 2012

EXCLUSIVE EVENT: Anne Basting - Forget memory and more...

Who are these artists and what links them? Answers at the foot of this BLOG post...


The North West Arts and Health Network is pleased to give you advanced notice of a one-off event. Author of the seminal book, Forget Memory, Anne Basting will share her thoughts on the arts and dementia. Anne has a vast experience in this emerging field and brings fresh perspectives to understanding of dementia and imagination. I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Anne in conversation with neuro-scientists and skeptics; people with dementia and artists - she is refreshing and exciting. This is an exclusive treat for us, will be as informal as possible and give us all the opportunity to hear from one of the true innovators of arts and health.

As ever, this is a free event and places are strictly limitedThe event is scheduled for July 10th and will probably take place early evening, but the timings and venue will be announced over the next two weeks. To register your interest in attending, email (this does not guarantee a place). 
To find out more about Anne’s work, here are some links:
Forget Memory 

Clockwise from top left: Antonin Artaud, Frida Kahlo, Barbara Hepworth and William Scott...
They all feature in The Healing Presence of Art, by Richard Cork. His free public talk and discussion is this Wednesday evening at MMU. Get all the details of the event by clicking on the good old Star Spangled Banner below.

Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto has created a time-lapse map of the 2053 nuclear explosions which have taken place between 1945 and 1998, beginning with the Manhattan Project's "Trinity" test near Los Alamos and concluding with Pakistan's nuclear tests in May of 1998. Remember Arts & Health is about more than the individual...

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Sugar Intake and Body Fatness in Non-industrial Cultures

Around the world, non-industrial cultures following an ancestral diet and lifestyle tend to be lean. When they transition a modern diet and lifestyle, they typically put on body fat and develop the classic "diseases of civilization" such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.  If we can understand the reasons why this health transition occurs, we will understand why these problems afflict us today.  Research has already identified a number of important factors, but today I'm going to discuss one in particular that has received a lot of attention lately: sugar.

There's an idea currently circulating that sugar is the main reason why healthy traditional cultures end up obese and sick.  It’s easy to find non-industrial cultures that are lean and don’t eat much sugar, and it’s easy to find industrial cultures that are obese and eat a lot of it.  But many factors are changing simultaneously there.  We could use the same examples to demonstrate that blue jeans and hair gel cause obesity.  If sugar is truly the important factor, then cultures with a high sugar intake, but an otherwise ancestral diet and lifestyle, should also be overweight and sick.  Let’s see if that's true. 

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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Calories Still Matter

The Centers for Disease Control's NHANES surveys documented a massive increase in obesity in the United States between the 1960-62 and 2007-2008 survey periods (1).  In 1960, 13 percent of US adults were obese, while in 2008 that number had risen to 34 percent.  The prevalence of extreme obesity increased from 0.9 to 6.0 percent over the same time period!

Something has changed, but what?  Well, the most parsimonious explanation is that we're simply eating more.  Here is a graph I created of our calorie intake (green) overlaid on a graph of obesity prevalence (blue) between 1970 and 2008:

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Sunday, June 3, 2012

A Huge Ever-Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld

There’s always been a bit of a disconnect between science and the arts; between hypothesis and fantasy – reality and delusion, but surely it’s this divergence and convergence that are at the heart of human imagination.

This week a friend at DADAA sent an interesting article about former MASH surgeon, Dr Richard Satava, who bridges the world of the science-fiction of his childhood reading, with the potential of surgical interventions that take the possibility of telemedicine to new heights. In his work on Outrageous Medicine, Satava dares to conjoin his florid imagination to explore the possibility of surviving previously unsurvivable illness or injury, and extending human life. Whilst Satava’s focus seems to be very much based on combat troop survival, (and this is a far-cry from our interest in quality of life and the participatory arts), it is nevertheless an interesting and provocative article.  

Bearing inequalities in mind: can you imagine suggesting we send art-troops into conflict zones and take sides with an oppressive military regime? Whilst this would be a sure-fire way of investing in your own blood-diamond, it would possibly be the most isolating and divisive course of action for arts/health. I’m often reminded of the way graffiti artist Banksy, elevated the status and our understanding of street art through his tagging of the 760 kilometer long Israeli, West Bank segregation wall – something I discussed in my paper, The Arts, Popular Culture and Inequalities. In this, I quoted at length the excellent article by Nigel Parry which illustrates the point far more eloquently than I ever could...

Before the month is through, part two of the manifesto for arts, health and well-being will be available in hard-copy and online and this time, I’m taking it on the road. Like some haggard and less romantic version of a 50’s beat poet, I will be taking the manifesto to the remotest corners of our land and provoking some more debate about what it is we do;  who we are and where we’re going. All wrapped up in the idea of possible scenarios and what the future might look like for us, and that next generation of free-thinkers, who are interested in art and culture in relation to society and well-being.  So, you can wait till the manifesto is published, or you can ask me for a date now!

I’m really pleased to have been working with colleagues from around the UK to develop a National Charter that underpins the idea of our National Alliance for Arts, Health and Wellbeing.  The charter has been developed separately, but in parallel with the manifesto and will be launched in September this year. Those of us involved in the National Alliance have sought to work with as many people as possible from the field in informing our direction, so that, as an alliance, it really has got representation from as many regions and localities as possible. Like the manifesto which had the active involvement of over 500 people across the North West (and many more further afield), the charter has involved all sorts of people and organisations and, like the manifesto, is about democracy and voice from our ever-growing sector. Quite often this is hard work, because diverse ideas make for challenging conversations, not least in a time of economic constraint. This process reflects a more ego-less development, that could so easily be destroyed by more traditionally power-hungry models. What is reassuring about the approach in the UK, is that it’s grown from the true principle of  an alliance: of co-operation, mutuality, friendship and partnership. This in turn, has emerged from the local and regional, to advance the bigger picture, and has not been imposed from a national, or (perish the thought), international perspective, which through outmoded arrogance, could only be seen as a soulless dictatorship, facile and devoid of relevance in the 21st Century. I can almost imagine an inter-stellar arts/health movement governed by a Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld: not good... fact, I COULD SCREAM
I’ve been reading Richard Cork’s book, which charts the relationship between the arts and health over the centuries, and have just concluded the excellent chapter on Edvard Munch which focuses on his precarious mental state, institutional care and a gunshot would to his hand: all things I never knew about the artist.  Adding to this, I was interested to read in the Guardian, that when the artist was 66 he contracted an intraocular haemorrhage in his right eye, leading to shapes, spots and smudges superimposed onto everything he saw. Professor of Ophthalmology at Stanford University, Michael Marmor has claimed that the semi-abstract watercolours Munch painted while suffering from the disease, reveal the symptoms of his illness.  Mamor comments that Munch's pictures differed in one important aspect from those by other artists with damaged eyesight. "Although the effects of ophthalmic problems such as cataracts can be seen in the works of artists such as Degas and Monet, Munch was unique because he gave us scenes from within the eye itself." Marmor’s new research will be published by the Tate, which will dedicate a room to a series of rarely displayed images in an exhibition which opens at Tate Modern on 28 June.
Richard Cork will give his free public lecture and answer questions about his book on Wed 13th June here at MMU. For full details click on the SCREAM below.

The Royal Society for Public Health Arts and Health Awards 2012
The Royal Society for Public Health awards marking significant contributions to research and practice in the field of Arts and Health are now in their fifth year. This year, the awards will focus on the role of the creative arts in the promoting the health and wellbeing of children and/or young people. Nominations are invited for individuals, teams or organisations whose work has furthered the contribution of the creative arts in fostering the health and wellbeing of children and/or young people in one or more of the following ways: 
  1. Through the development of innovative programmes of creative activity in healthcare or community contexts in the interests of promoting the health and wellbeing of children and/or young people 
  2. Through the development of conceptual and theoretical perspectives on the linkages between creative arts and the promotion of health and wellbeing of children and/or young people 
  3. Through conducting significant research or evaluation studies that contribute to a developing evidence base of the contribution of the creative arts in promoting the health and wellbeing of children and/or young people
Please click on the Sex Pistols, God Save the Queen cover below for details.

So we’ve all dutifully observed our dear old monarchs flotilla, bobbing up and down on the Thames to the bleary-eyed subservience of her loyal subjects. Here is a tonic to refresh the palate.

I had the pleasure of meeting and working with Dr Thom Ferrier this week - a graphic artist of exquisite skill.  If you aren’t sure of what Graphic Medicine is or the potency it has in the medical humanities, I urge you to visit and I note that there looks to be an excellent conference in Canada at the end of July. Please click on the link below for details.

A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld

Some possible definitions:

A solar, radiant entity at the heart of all things - timeless and weightless - an all seeing eye

A super-ego, pulsing with unfettered rage, its veins coursing with crude oil, its vision - total domination of all matter

An inter-stellar arts and health movement governed on the tradition of panning for gold and drilling for oil; of exciting free-markets; the claiming of new territories and removing of all obstacles at any cost

Thank you...C.P.